INDIANAPOLIS — As he strode to the podium at Lucas Oil Stadium, Cardale Jones joked with quarterback guru George Whitfield. The latter has worked to mold Jones — who is blessed with the strongest arm Whitfield's ever seen — since the quarterback left Ohio State, tried to make sure his latest pupil was ready to face the media. Jones showed he was in a way only he could.
"You think I should throw some freestyle at them?" Jones said, flashing that toothy smile that electrified college football for the last 18 months. "Just a bit?"
Whitfield smiled and let him go, expecting Jones to be all business before he turned to reporters. He was, stepping in front of cameras Thursday at the NFL Combine during the biggest week of his life.
"The ultimate test is Saturday, we'll see how much (Whitfield) helped," Jones said. "Only time will tell if I'm ready."
Jones has been in San Diego training with Whitfield extensively to be ready for the series of interviews and questions that will assuredly range everywhere from why he lost his starting job under Urban Meyer at Ohio State in 2015, his Twitter, his size and more. Whitfield said Jones is up by 7 a.m. each day watching tape before throwing, then doing classroom work until 5:45 p.m. or later. Only an hour break for lunch breaks up the day. It amasses to about 90 hours a week of work, Jones said, and comes to a point Saturday on the field where he is scheduled to throw in front of scouts.
"I think he's more mature, he's had more time to groom," Whitfield said. "Coach Meyer continued to groom him for another fall, another year."
Jones' pure arm talent outpaces any other quarterback in this year's draft class. He could have left Columbus a year ago after torching Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to lead the Buckeyes to the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship, but elected to come back. His stock was as high as it possibly could have been in January 2015, but Jones came back to battle J.T. Barrett for playing time.
He won the job, then yielded to his best friend in October as Ohio State tried to round into form in the stretch run. Now, he's below other signal callers like Connor Cook and Carson Wentz on NFL mock draft boards. It was a risk that ultimately worked against him, but Jones has come to terms with that.
He made that clear Thursday, when a reporter asked point blank if he regretted staying in school another season.
"Of course not," Jones said. "Just experience. Last year, I was coming off three games playing. Probably a total of maybe less than 200 snaps in my college career at that point."
“It's not just a job, it's a career. I don't want a job in the NFL. I want a career.”– Cardale Jones
He's not wrong. The lightning in a bottle Jones captured to win three of the biggest games in college football in 2014 probably won't ever be matched. It cost him some money at the next level, but Jones isn't focused on that. He's here to prove a point that he can hang with guys like Wentz and Cook.
"I don't think I get enough credit for how cerebral I am as a quarterback," Jones said. "I think I'm ready for that level and only time will tell."
Jones is a fun-loving individual, not afraid to ask MMA star Ronda Rousey out on Twitter during an awards show or flash that grin as he jokes with his teammates. He sent a few bad tweets when he was younger — something he said NFL brass brought up to him already this week — but is past that now. He's confident in his maturity.
"Just understanding that it's a job now. This is how people provide for their families," Jones said. "Getting accustomed to taking snaps from under center and taking 3-, 5- and 7-step drops. Just shaping that mindset and the way I think and the way I go about everything. It's not just a job, it's a career. I don't want a job in the NFL. I want a career."
Jones said he can't wait to get in front of a whiteboard and show his knowledge of the Xs and Os side of the game. He's been working on his touch with Whitfield as well, though it is important to not forget the magnificent arm strength God blessed him with.
"He could throw a pistachio through a brick wall," Whitfield said. "More times than not, I say we don't maybe need that much. He's got seven or eight gears when only the bottom four are like legal."
Jones said he can't put into words how much he learned at Ohio State in the 2015 season — one he says "personally is a disappointment" — and knows he could be an NFL quarterback.
There are sides to him that include his jovial approach to life, his cannon for a right arm and as a father to daughter, Chloe. It all comes together into the man Jones wishes to put on display this week in Indianapolis.
"I didn't wake up today to say 'I'm going to show these guys I can be serious or playful.' I'm going to show these guys who I am," Jones said. "I'm pretty sure there's a lot of negative stereotypes on me or things people may think I am, but I feel like the way I am and the things I get done as long as I don't kill anyone or commit any major crimes, I don't think it's a problem."